Jonathan Schaeffer

One Jump Ahead: Challenging Human Supremacy in Checkers

reviewed by Carlos Yu

Man versus machine has made good copy since John Henry; the micro-world has not, until now. In One Jump Ahead, Albertan computer scientist Jonathan Schaeffer tells how his brainchild computer program, named Chinook, took on the greatest human checkers player of all time, a retired lay preacher from Tallahassee named Marion Tinsley. The story has a pleasingly low-key, Jamaican-bobsled feel, more wholesome than the typical silicon-rhinestone epic. A checkers novice, Schaeffer writes clear, artless prose and somewhat buggy code. Chinook's opponents are mainly amiable, canny old men with a staggeringly high death rate. Crucial matches are held in Tupelo, Edmonton and Gilbertsville, Kentucky; meanwhile, Schaeffer's wife takes up quilting. The necessary villains are straight out of Guideposts; the inevitable tech problems would make Wired blush to recount. Only the compulsive gearhead or games addict will read the many pages of technical detail. Still, as an oddly moving human document, One Jump Ahead stands as a minor classic of its genre.

[University of Alberta] 
University of Alberta 
[Department of Computing Science] 
Computing Science